Tuesday, February 12, 2008

City leaders tour Granada Theatre


Amid a flurry of dust, thudding hammers and furiously toiling workers, several city leaders and staff took a tour through the guts of the Granada Theatre on Tuesday morning as restoration efforts on the historic building near completion.
After donning hard hats, the group of local dignitaries followed Peter Frisch, executive director of the theatre, as he pointed out extensive changes throughout the building.

“We did it right,” Frisch said. “We have visiting professionals who are stunned by the scope and beauty of this restoration.”
Similar sentiments reflected clearly on the face of Mayor Marty Blum as she gazed up at the ornate ceiling of the theatre, her mouth agape. Councilmember Grant House could only muster up a “Wow.”
As the group stared up at the theatre’s original chandelier in its restored glory, workers continued putting finishing touches on 10 new theatre boxes, up from the previous total of two.
What had started as a seismic retrofit and paint job turned into a major $50 million restoration, renovation and reconsideration of the eight-story building, Frisch said. That included essentially demolishing the entire stage and rebuilding it from scratch.
Previously a 40-foot proscenium arch, the stage has been expanded by 1,600 square feet and is now 50 feet wide, a feature that lured the Santa Barbara Symphony into calling the theatre home again, Frisch said.
He led the way to an expanded orchestra pit, a portion of which can be lowered to provide space for up to 54 players, raised to crowd level to offer more seating, or lifted even higher to extend the stage.
“It was kind of a no-brainer to put this on an elevator,” Frisch said.
Other improvements include wheelchair-accessible seating in the front and rear of both levels; women’s restrooms that have been expanded to 28 stalls; and theatre boxes cantilevered out for better sightlines.
But Frisch said as much as the rebuilding effort has improved audience enjoyment, the largest focus has been geared toward providing the best possible facility for performers.
“As beautiful as this is,” he said, referring to the audience seating and stage, “my favorite place is down below.”
Ten dressing rooms, 48 makeup stations and a rehearsal hall are in the final stages of construction in a newly built basement where only dirt existed before. Each dressing room boasts its own shower and bathroom.
“I can’t tell you how unusual that is in a historical renovation to have these state-of-the-art dressing facilities,” Frisch said.
A temperature- and humidity-controlled room will house a specially selected grand piano that Frisch described as having a big heart and magnificent tone. The rehearsal hall boasts a spring floor, mirrored wall and bars for dancers, while the room itself is soundproofed to allow performers to warm up without disrupting others.
“They placed a lot of thought on the actors and the back-of-the-house folks,” Councilmember Helene Schneider said.
Back the lobby, Frisch pointed out two grand staircases sweeping up to the balcony, noting their complete redesign that reduced their pitch.
“They were ridiculously steep before,” he said. “We called them the twin Matterhorns.”
Workers also moved the rear wall of the theatre forward, eliminating three back rows and providing 10 feet of additional space for the lobby area. Frisch said a restaurant located off the lobby is slated open in September and will provide seating and catered food for 100 people.
In the upper lobby, designs called for the removal of heavy concrete balustrades and the installation of archways along the walls, complete with columns adorned with pomegranates. In fact, little touches of pomegranate red are sprinkled throughout the theatre, an artistic reference to the name Granada, which is Spanish for pomegranate.
“It looks fabulous,” Schneider said. “The detail is incredible. I really think it’s going to be a jewel on the West Coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. A pomegranate jewel.”
On the upper balcony, workers had nearly finished putting in seats. A replica of the 1928 marquee is expected to be installed sometime this week.
However, even with between 300 and 400 workers in 43 different trades working nonstop since construction began, the theatre will not be completely finished by opening night in early March.
“We would have loved to be open fully by opening night,” Frisch said, “but it looks like we’ll be about 98 percent done.”
The box office is expected to lag about a week behind and the upper lobby will be clean but lacking finishing touches.
Opening celebrations will start with a tribute to the theatre’s “Hard Hats” on March 4. The Opening Gala — featuring performances by the Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, Opera Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Choral Society, and others — will take place on March 6. Theatre officials will also open the renovated building on March 9 for a free open house for the public.

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